Manifest Destiny and the Jacksonian Democrats
This is a repost that I wrote two years ago but it still holds up today. Very little has changed in the past two years except for the worse. I tried to illustrate the origins of exceptionalism and predicted Obama would be not bring any change.Our nation was born out of imperialsim and the same attitudes have been handed down to the present day.
Most have heard the term “Manifest Destiny” and its usage to delineate America’s God given right to conquer the universe and beyond since there was really no other reason that could be given by reasoning people for the ruthless expansion of American territories during the nineteenth century.
The painting above (courtesy of Wikipedia) is intended as the personification of Manifest Destiny with the Indians and wild beasts scurrying out the way of a gigantic Columbia which is actually quite appropriate for the consequences of Manifest Destiny. American exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny go hand in hand with American imperialism which began with the expansion westward. It was our Manifest Destiny and it may also prove to be our undoing.
The phrase itself was coined by John L. O’Sullivan in 1845 in an essay entitled Annexation. However he was writing about America’s exceptionalism as early as 1839.
the following is an excerpt.
The American people having derived their origin from many other nations, and the Declaration of National Independence being entirely based on the great principle of human equality, these facts demonstrate at once our disconnected position as regards any other nation; that we have, in reality, but little connection with the past history of any of them, and still less with all antiquity, its glories, or its crimes. On the contrary, our national birth was the beginning of a new history, the formation and progress of an untried political system, which separates us from the past and connects us with the future only; and so far as regards the entire development of the natural rights of man, in moral, political, and national life, we may confidently assume that our country is destined to be the great nation of futurity.
It is so destined, because the principle upon which a nation is organized fixes its destiny, and that of equality is perfect, is universal. It presides in all the operations of the physical world, and it is also the conscious law of the soul -- the self-evident dictates of morality, which accurately defines the duty of man to man, and consequently man's rights as man. Besides, the truthful annals of any nation furnish abundant evidence, that its happiness, its greatness, its duration, were always proportionate to the democratic equality in its system of government. . . .
What friend of human liberty, civilization, and refinement, can cast his view over the past history of the monarchies and aristocracies of antiquity, and not deplore that they ever existed? What philanthropist can contemplate the oppressions, the cruelties, and injustice inflicted by them on the masses of mankind, and not turn with moral horror from the retrospect?
America is destined for better deeds. It is our unparalleled glory that we have no reminiscences of battle fields, but in defence of humanity, of the oppressed of all nations, of the rights of conscience, the rights of personal enfranchisement. Our annals describe no scenes of horrid carnage, where men were led on by hundreds of thousands to slay one another, dupes and victims to emperors, kings, nobles, demons in the human form called heroes. We have had patriots to defend our homes, our liberties, but no aspirants to crowns or thrones; nor have the American people ever suffered themselves to be led on by wicked ambition to depopulate the land, to spread desolation far and wide, that a human being might be placed on a seat of supremacy.
We have no interest in the scenes of antiquity, only as lessons of avoidance of nearly all their examples. The expansive future is our arena, and for our history. We are entering on its untrodden space, with the truths of God in our minds, beneficent objects in our hearts, and with a clear conscience unsullied by the past. We are the nation of human progress, and who will, what can, set limits to our onward march? Providence is with us, and no earthly power can. We point to the everlasting truth on the first page of our national declaration, and we proclaim to the millions of other lands, that "the gates of hell" -- the powers of aristocracy and monarchy -- "shall not prevail against it."
The far-reaching, the boundless future will be the era of American greatness. In its magnificent domain of space and time, the nation of many nations is destined to manifest to mankind the excellence of divine principles; to establish on earth the noblest temple ever dedicated to the worship of the Most High -- the Sacred and the True. Its floor shall be a hemisphere -- its roof the firmament of the star-studded heavens, and its congregation an Union of many Republics, comprising hundreds of happy millions, calling, owning no man master, but governed by God's natural and moral law of equality, the law of brotherhood -- of "peace and good will amongst men.". . .
Yes, we are the nation of progress, of individual freedom, of universal enfranchisement. Equality of rights is the cynosure of our union of States, the grand exemplar of the correlative equality of individuals; and while truth sheds its effulgence, we cannot retrograde, without dissolving the one and subverting the other. We must onward to the fulfilment of our mission -- to the entire development of the principle of our organization -- freedom of conscience, freedom of person, freedom of trade and business pursuits, universality of freedom and equality. This is our high destiny, and in nature's eternal, inevitable decree of cause and effect we must accomplish it. All this will be our future history, to establish on earth the moral dignity and salvation of man -- the immutable truth and beneficence of God. For this blessed mission to the nations of the world, which are shut out from the life-giving light of truth, has America been chosen; and her high example shall smite unto death the tyranny of kings, hierarchs, and oligarchs, and carry the glad tidings of peace and good will where myriads now endure an existence scarcely more enviable than that of beasts of the field. Who, then, can doubt that our country is destined to be the great nation of futurity?
And thus O’Sullivan sets America as above all other nations that exist or have existed as it was our “high destiny” where America is divine with the truth of God in our minds and all the rest of this putrid dribble whose arrogance and conceit is breathtaking. It is this philosophy that has imbedded itself in the American mind and has been passed on to this very day for most Americans would never question our superiority to all other peoples of the planet Earth. Today we see the echoes of this world view that has reverberated into ideas such as bringing democracy to the Middle East. We are superior, we are the agents of God and good, it is our destiny to spread our mindset and world view, our style of governance, our slavish obedience to the capitalist way to all other lands that inhabit this world. We must be sick in the head.
The belief in America’s Manifest Destiny was one of the cornerstones of the Jacksonian Democrat philosophy. And it was this belief in American exceptionalism that drove the imperialistic expansion of America from the Atlantic ocean to the Pacific. Manifest Destiny despite whatever O’Sullivan believed was merely the cosmetic overlay that hid the true non-idealistic motives of greed and avarice that was actually driving the disenfranchisement of the native peoples of an entire continent which included genocide on a grand and brutal scale.
One of the last Jacksonian presidents was James Polk. And like our present President Bush the Mexican American war that was provoked by Polk was done under not only the auspices of Manifest Destiny but in the guise of a defense against invasion.
Two months into the war,U.S. representative George Ashmun, from Massachusetts, rebuked the president. "It is no longer pretended that our purpose is to repel invasion," he protested, "The mask is off; the veil is lifted; and we see. . . invasion, conquest, and colonization, emblazoned upon our banners."
Ashmun and other Whigs could not reconcile Polk's course with ideals of innocence and exceptionalism. Democrats, however, replied that Polk was beyond reproach. When the war ended, Sen. Sidney Breese of Illinois argued that his country's historic commitment to peace and national honor had been maintained. "We have never, sir, since the birth of our nation, given occasion for war, not even with the barbarous tribes upon our borders," he insisted. "It is our pride. . . that our whole history may be explored, and no single act of national injustice can be found upon its page-no blot of that kind upon our national escutcheon."
Politicians, editors, soldiers, and citizens, wanted new terrirory for various reasons. In the case of Texas, the Tyler administration sought to prevent the abolition of slavery there, control a potential rival in cotton production, provide a haven for masters and their slaves, thwart Great Britain from keeping Texas independent, and comply with the wishes of most Texians to join the United States. In the Oregon dispute, Democrats hoped to dominate Asian commerce, provide land for future pioneers, and safeguard citizens already settled there. The war with Mexico and the strategy of conquest revealed a desire to secure a border at the Rio Grande, satisfy claims against Mexico, and acquire California to monopolize trade with Asia. Democrats wanted to supply abundant land to the nation's poor and to future immigrants. To attain this laudable goal, however, they relied on bribery, bullying, and warfare to wrest land from Native Americans and Mexicans. Often idealistic, they were also racist and materialistic.
Then as today many Americans are blind to the suffering, destruction, and death we have dealt the people of Iraq driving them from their homes as we drove the Native Americans from theirs, murdering them on a wholesale basis as we have been murdering the Iraqi people and indeed we hear less and less about the brutal inhuman occupation of Iraq in the papers and in liberal blogs rather it has been supplanted by the dog and pony show of a presidential election that is of little consequence since the major players are all owned and paid for by the giant corporations that run and own this nation we call the United States of America a nation that despite its pretense at holier than thou has long been bereft of any sense of decency with all of our double standards and double dealings. Our government has been lying to us and indeed to the rest of the world and it is no wonder that most people will not even discuss the atrocities that we are causing at this very minute and second and all the days and nights of our existence because it is not polite to speak of such matters. Oh no, we are good, we are of a mind with God, we are the saviors of the planet just don’t look too closely at the dead and dying, the bodies rotting in the noonday sun. It is much better to speak of more pleasant things or pass the time discussing the intricacies of our national elections and who is more suitable to be our next Murderer in Chief.
"It is our pride. . . that our whole history may be explored, and no single act of national injustice can be found upon its page-no blot of that kind upon our national escutcheon."